Exercise and positive effects to your mental health

By Chris Hynson
Coordinator, Riderwood Fitness

How many of us exercise mainly because we “want to feel better?” Many of us may exercise because the doctor told us to, for physiological reasons (lower blood pressure, resting heart rate, increase lung capacity), but how about those psychological benefits of exercise? According to the Journal of Clinical Psychiatry, aerobic activities such as jogging, swimming, cycling, walking, and dancing have been proved to reduce anxiety and depression. The improvements in mood are caused by an increase of blood circulation to the brain as well as the neurotransmitter serotonin, which contributes to your feelings of happiness and well-being. Serotonin also helps to regulate your body’s sleep and wake cycles, which is another benefit of exercise. You will most likely experience better sleep. You can also increase your body’s serotonin levels by exposing yourself to sunlight. The Mayo Clinic states that sunlight cues particular areas of the retina part of your eye which triggers this serotonin release.

You want to exercise for at least three days a week for 30 minutes of moderate activities such as those mentioned above for a positive response with your body to improve self-esteem and cognitive function. Residents who regularly exercise here at Riderwood, whether they follow their own program, take fitness classes, or do personal training, may agree that they feel better not only physically, but mentally after an exercise session. The greatest feeling is that sense of accomplishment and thinking to yourself, “I did it and feel great!” You also may find you have more energy afterward and are less stressed too. According to Michael Otto, PhD and a professor of psychology at Boston University, “If you’ve ever gone for a run after a stressful day, chances are you felt better afterward. The link between exercise and mood is pretty strong and usually within five minutes after moderate exercise, you get a mood-enhancement effect.”

No, I’m not saying you must run, but use the safer means of exercise available to you such as a NuStep, a bicycle, treadmill, or swimming pool. However, the most challenging part about exercising for most people is getting motivated to do so, to take that vital step. Lack of motivation is usually the biggest roadblock to the benefits of exercise on your mental health. This is where working with a fitness professional will also help you. Each day you can begin by putting healthier thoughts into your brain such as “I know if I go for a walk, I will feel more energized and less depressed.” As I’ve always said, you cannot put a price on your health. Exercising especially for our mental health, will help us overcome mental illnesses and we will all flourish as a result living happier, healthier lifestyles.

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